Petroleum derived oils are often used in beauty products, lotions and baby products for it's ability to create a barrier over the skin and lock in moisture. It's also labeled as Petrolatum, Mineral oil, Petroleum Jelly, Liquid paraffin or Paraffin oil. For the purposes of this blog, I will use the term petroleum jelly.
Petroleum jelly is a by product of the oil refining process; found at the bottom of oil rigs and further refined for use in the beauty industry. It is an occlusive agent - meaning it seals off water and air from the skin. This blocks your skin's ability to breathe and absorb leading to a slowdown in the cellular renewal process by forcing the skin to pull out moisture and nutrients from within, which ultimately leads to collagen breakdown.
Your skin may appear hydrated and moisturised initially but the reality is it's suffocating. Most people who use petroleum jelly find that they have to constantly re-apply or use more of the product each time. Their skin condition is never 'cured' - the symptoms are merely relived in the short term. It's no wonder when you think about the skin being starved of oxygen and moisture underneath. Petroleum jelly has no nutrients and even if it did it can't be metabolised by our bodies. This leads us to the next problem as unmetabolised hydrocarbons from petroleum accumulates in the body.
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Women's Health, researchers removed fat specimens from 142 women who were undergoing C-sections, and collected milk samples from them post-delivery. They found that both the fat and the milk were contaminated with mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons. The authors also concluded that "The increase in MOSH [mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons] concentration in human fat tissue with age suggests an accumulation over time.
The study found no link between nutritional habits and hydrocarbon levels in the body but did find a strong potential link between cosmetic and beauty product use and contamination, suggesting that beauty products may be a major source of hydrocarbon exposure.
Estrogen dominance is a growing condition where the body has high levels of estrogen and proportionately low levels of progesterone to balance it. It is linked to infertility, menstrual problems, accelerated aging, allergies and autoimmune problems as well as nutrient deficiencies, sleep problems and even some types of cancers.
Many products (including petroleum jelly) contain chemicals called xenoestrogens which may increase estrogen problems in the body. These chemicals disrupt hormone receptors in the body.
Petroleum based products may also be contaminated by harmful chemicals like 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen. An EWG report has cited that "These trace contaminants in petroleum-based ingredients often readily penetrate the skin according to government and industry studies, and their presence in products is not restricted by government safety standards — they are legal at any level."
1,4 dioxane is found in 22 percent of all petroleum based cosmetics. How much you're exposed to depends on the product you're using for example, it's in 82 percent of hair dyes, 45 percent of self-tanners and 36 percent of face moisturizers .
Fortunately there are many great alternatives to petroleum jelly and mineral oil that moisturise AND nourish the skin. Here are some examples:
Shea Butter – A skin superfood high in Vitamins A, E and F. It also contains beneficial fatty acids, reduces skin inflammation and increases collagen production.
Cocoa Butter - A great source of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids.
Coconut oil – A source of skin-nourishing fatty acids, lauric acid and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Jojoba Oil - A perfect choice for skin care because it naturally resembles sebum, the oily substance naturally produced by the body to nourish and protect skin.
The above are just some examples of emollients which are naturally rich in nutrients and are safer for your skin and health.
Check out our hydrate section for a great selection of petroleum free moisturisers for your body, face and hair.